Patriotism and the dilemmas of Urban Youth

We have to call a spade a spade.  You can not name the problem of depoliticisation as selfishness of a generation. These labels — selfishness, lacking devotion to the nation or west-centric — are symptom of depoliticisation, not the problem itself. Drawing from his conversation with his freedom fighter grandfather, Shovon Das further responds to the popular responds to the popular assumption that the young generation of Bangladesh is not patriotic enough.


Quite often, in TV talk shows and newspapers, particularly close to the Independence and Victory Day of Bangladesh, we hear earlier generation of Bangladesh, are expressing disappointment with today’s youth that they are indifferent, self-cantered and lacks commitment to society. Thereby, less patriotic. Not only in national media, you would hear this even in urban social spaces.

mindspeak--patrioticOf course, this burden of disappointment is difficult for us — the today’s youth. I have often found myself arguing on this with my Dada, who is an everyday freedom fighter. He judges the entire generation based on his bitter experiences with our parar mastans (neighbourhood thugs). That is another story. I bring him up here because his story about urban and rural mukti-joddha helped me identify the problem in this popular assumption.

On the Independence Day 2017 issue of New Age Youth, Dristy Rahman responded to this question. Her piece inspired me to think about this troubling portrayal of youth. I agree with her that patriotism is about your emotional connection with your motherland, it is not about your external-self. However, as university student from a small town in Chandpur, I don’t necessarily identify with the ‘youth’ portrayed in these discussions.

I take issues with this kind of generic assumption that the young generation of Bangladesh is less patriotic.

Really, who are you talking about?

Clearly, you are not talking about the young mass, both men and women who toil their youth away in garment factories or at construction sites in Dubai, Lebanon or Malaysia and spin the wheel of our national economy. Neither are you talking about the rural youth who first struggle to gain access to a proper education, and then to survive in the job market.

Therefore, how do you take a ‘problem’ seriously when it takes majority of the youth out of its equation?

What percentage of Bangladeshi youth eats Sushi and speaks English?

This is where I borrow from my Dada. He had always said to us, the history of 1971 is dominated by the stories of urban, middleclass freedom-fighter; the villagers, rural farmers’ stories of courage and sacrifice largely remained outside of the celebrated history.  Similarly, when we talk about the ‘failure’ of today’s youth upholding the spirit of 1971, we are exclusively talking about the urban youth. My Dada had lost an arm during the war of independence and spent most of his evening writing diary that he never shared with anyone, always refused to attend any event organised to honour mukti-joddhas in our town. Yet, he felt unrecongnised. I think, his grudges are slightly misplaced. And, I don’t carry the same kind of rural citizenship that he did since I have managed to come to Dhaka and study at a private university. I am part of the excluded minority who are portrayed as apathetic to collective social wellbeing.  I bring my Dada’s story of 1971 to underscore the rural-urban divide that influence our sense responsibility, if not define.

Even if we focus on the 1 % youth and take the blame of being ‘self-fish generation,’ I do not think answer lies on their fashion choices or Bangla accent. Yes, our generation living in cities prefers to speak Bangla in a particular accent. Again that is a story for another day. I have argued for hours with my Dada, that if a generation is self-involved, or individualised, it is the failure of the time. The political culture has failed us to groom us into being a more socially aware, collectively involved generation. What I am trying to hammer here is that the depoliticisation of a generation did not happen through the individual choices, the problem is tied to the macro political culture.

My grandfather and many of his generation were able to hear the calling of the nation, the political atmosphere was as such that it could mobilise people from all walks of life to join the war of 1971. However, we can’t hear the calling!  The cultural, educational, political institutions were spaces where you could nurture the spirit and desire for liberation. However, today, we are rewarded for speaking English or gain more social status if we leave the country for a better job than encouraged to contribute to the national development.

We have to call a spade a spade.  You can not name the problem of depoliticisation as selfishness. These labels — selfishness, lacking devotion to the nation or west-centric — are symptom of depoliticisation, not the problem itself.


Shovon Das is a student of Daffodil University

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